The dreaded cold and some chest infections (also known as man flu by some genders) can be caused by viruses which provoke a response from your immune system. Typically, they last five to seven days. If an infection lasts several weeks then there may be something else going on, so what should you do? Our doctors advise on the best course of action

Colds, Flu and Chest Infections

Q. I’ve had a cold for weeks! Why can’t I shift it?

A. One of the commonest reasons for a prolonged cold is that the immune response does not ‘switch itself off’ after the virus infection has been eradicated. This continued inflammatory immune response is manifested typically by nasal stuffiness and mucus production which drips down the back of the throat. If not properly treated, this can result in stagnation of the nasal mucus flow making it easier to become infected. When this happens, the colour of the mucus changes from clear or white to yellow or green. Furthermore, the nasal stuffiness blocks the normal outflow of mucus from the sinuses in the cheeks. The blocked mucus in the sinuses causes an inflammatory response (or sinusitis) which can subsequently become infected (‘infected sinusitis”). This can be a very unpleasant illness and requires treatment, not just with antibiotics but with saline washouts (such as Sterimar or Neil-Med, available from your pharmacy over the counter without prescription).

Q. Should I use anything else?

A. Sometimes a steroid nasal spray is required in addition to the saline wash (this is to damp down the inflammatory response of the immune system). If sinusitis, bronchitis or rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal lining) is a recurring problem then it’s a good idea to see if these symptoms respond to inhaled steroids. This is especially important if the above mentioned illnesses are accompanied by chest tightness, breathlessness, high pitched breath sounds (also known as wheezes) or coughing bouts (these are typically brought on by laughing, talking or on exposure to a change in air temperature).

Q. Any other tips?

A. If there’s a history of hayfever, eczema, asthma, rhinitis or allergies in any one of your parents or siblings, there’s a greater chance of you having any one (or all!) of these conditions. If this is the case, it could explain why your colds last for weeks compared to your friends!